It’s true that some of today’s finest beef-supreme action outings can only be found through on-demand services, and Scott Adkins might be the most persuasive poster child for that notion. You’ve seen Adkins in studio films like Zero Dark Thirty, Doctor Strange, The Bourne Ultimatum or The Expendables II, and he figures to factor heavily into next year’s John Wick: Chapter 4. However, straight-to-VOD slappers such as Ninja: Shadow of a Tear, Close Range or the all-timer awesomeness of Universal Soldier: Day of Redemption are the arena in which the fortysomething Adkins continues to make his biggest name.
Trained in 10 martial arts as well as gymnastics, Adkins dismantles bad guys’ bones, joints and dreams with the muscle memory office drones use to type everyday email sign-offs or passwords. You know he’s thumbing a well-worn playbook of pummel strategy, but it never translates into blocky physical expression or clearly counted-off choreography. It helps Adkins create an authoritatively ass-kicking presence no matter what, especially in films like One Shot (hitting VOD Friday), in which he leaves behind even his modest acting chops.
Everyone in One Shot takes a backseat to the conceit carried off by director James Nunn and his crew to make the film resemble one continuous take from start to finish. Hardly a novel idea, it’s nevertheless one Nunn, who performed second-unit work on the 47 Meters Down franchise, held onto for years until the critical and commercial success of the similarly staged 1917 found financiers with dollar signs in their eyes. There are certainly no additional wrinkles in Jamie Russell’s boilerplate script, his first feature-length endeavor. It’s 90 minutes of Adkins pissing in terrorists’ pools at a swift pace and with sturdy action thanks to coordination of longtime Adkins allies Tim Man (fights) and Dan Styles (stunts) — solid mechanics and movements but nothing that will require an implement to scrape your jaw from the floor.
“When somebody finds out you’re on a team, they only ask how many people you’ve killed. They never ask how many you’ve saved.” So goes the opening narration from Lt. Jake Harris (Adkins) before he and his SEAL Team touch down at a remote-island black-site detention center that’s colloquially known as the United Nations of terrorism. It’s about to be shut down with a reprioritization of resources to combat domestic threats. But first, junior CIA analyst Zoe Anderson (Ashley Khoury Greene, Bombshell) must extract Amin Mansur (Waleed Elgadi). Mansur is a detainee whom Anderson believes has crucial information on a plot to target the State of the Union with a dirty bomb, even though Mansur insists upon his innocence.
Anderson’s demand is to the chagrin of site manager Jack Yorke (Ryan Phillippe, putting forth suitable bureaucratic bluster), who would rather let Mansur rot and suspects Anderson is merely angling for the sort of career promotion that has eluded him for so long. As Anderson pulls rank, and the SEALs seem poised to “wrap this shit up” and go home, a convoy barrels through the gate — emitting scores of balaclava-clad terrorists who lay siege to the compound.
They’re led by the Bane-built Hakim Charef (UFC welterweight fighter Jess Liaudin), an Algerian terrorist believed dead but very much alive as a hired gun to keep Mansur quiet about whatever he knows. (Liaudin screams a lot of unsubtitled French dialogue, but fear not: You’ll know what he’s shouting.) Amid bad juju, wrong intel, downed communications and dead comrades, Harris must suss out who’s telling the truth and survive long enough to see it gets to the right people.
Given a surplus of military advisors in the end credits, one can only assume the tactical accuracy of One Shot, at least in the early going. Eventually, you’ll wonder why Harris didn’t just pop that one guy outright given that he was holding all that time. Or why the cabal of terrorists would give good-guy survivors of a suicide bomb several minutes to scare up more useful information rather than swarm. Or why Anderson would withhold such important evidence from anybody that long.
Despite a gauntlet of gunfights, gaping wounds and grenades (hand-lobbed and rocket-propelled), the nagging nature of such questions keep One Shot from the upper Adkins echelon. Acknowledging that this subset of action isn’t the place to bust out flying takedowns or a surplus of spinning roundhouse kicks, Adkins certainly been a more impressive one-man wrecking machine in the aforementioned efforts. Plus, this story hits its modest apex at about the hourlong mark and sputters from there, and Nunn only gets eye-catching with his camera’s serpentine swirl in the final 10 minutes.
Nevertheless, it’s still easy to marvel at Adkins confidently striding through this with an almost slasher-like precision, popping terrorists as they poke their heads around the corner or perhaps slitting their throats — as if Harris knows the exact millisecond at which a man will extend his Adam’s apple to be gored, cored and tossed aside. Adkins certainly has been part of some maniac movies that will provoke an elevated cardiac response. Technically competent and moderately entertaining as it is, One Shot simply isn’t one of those.